What torture those semi-truck drivers endure, we thought as we approached the Guatemala/ El Salvador border. Several miles of stopped semis lined up to cross for what could be up to a week we were told! Some strung up hammocks under the trucks and slept. At first we thought we needed to wait in that same line but as we approached, a gaggle of wide eyed and excited to see us men hopped on motor bikes and surrounded us telling us things like “just give me $5 and I’ll take care of all of the paperwork! This way, this way! That other guy is a bandit! I speak English! Hire me and pay what you want!” This onslaught of congestion, dust, heat and bombardment of unwanted attention and solicitation made an unfamiliar situation even more stressful. Somehow we sifted through the maze of would be helpers, inched our way through cracks between the trucks and drove through ditches, paid our fees, made the needed copies and came out on the El Salvador side looking and feeling like we had been through the ringer of one of the ancient washing machines we’d seen along the way.
I had recently read Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act in which he wrote an eye opening chapter about El Salvador, the war and the USA involvement in it. He made a case for exploring and getting to know the people in order to come to one’s own conclusions but we decided to take the less adventurous route (if that exists in El Salvador) along the surfer coast. When we commented to our hotel manager that we thought El Salvador was cleaner than Guatemala he enlightened us. “You are in a bubble in this area around El Tunco. You wouldn’t be walking barefoot in San Salvador or even with shoes at 9 pm.” We came to understand that this area of the coast was in fact a special place spruced for tourists with the security cameras, the well-kept buildings, streets and trash pick-up. The heat and humidity was thick so we refreshed ourselves with Micheladas and watched the skilled surfers as the sun set into the Pacific.
The off shore wind on which surfers thrive is perilous for kite surfers like Jay so onward up the coast we searched for the elusive wind at the ideal speed and direction at Playa Costa del Sol. Sometimes the online presentation of a hotel is quite contrary to reality and the first stop at an overpriced beachfront dive was a definite thumbs down. At one place they were surprised that we wanted to rent for 24 hours and another dive was $60 but no sabanas (sheets)! Eventually we managed to find a beachfront room with a pool –but no wind! Enjoyable all the same with a private swim in the vacant hotel pool and the rhythm of the waves crashing in the darkness while eating our dinner.
To be fair, I’ve heard that some have traveled with interest throughout Honduras successfully but we decided to drive through quickly in a few hours on one of the shortest routes possible between the El Salvador and Nicaragua boarders. We survived and are here to tell you about two wild and crazy border crossings in one day!!
We arrived at the El Salvador/ Honduras border early and were immediately bombarded by the self-proclaimed border expeditors offering their unwanted assistance to coach us through the quagmire of paperwork necessary to depart El Salvador and import our vehicle to Honduras. I found an extremely helpful over-lander blog listing all of the gory details we would need to cross and we were prepared with copious notes, and multiple copies of passports, car title, registration, vehicle import permit etc. Those guys pushing their services were pretty unstoppable and reminded me of the carpet salesmen in Morocco where once entering a shop you would purchase a carpet whether you wanted one or not. Likewise, once one of the multiple in your face expeditors vying for our dollars touched one of our documents the battle to rid ourselves from their annoyance had been lost. Our chosen one did hasten the cumbersome process but at a price. In the end our fleecing was pretty bad and left us in battle mode in preparation for the upcoming onslaught at the Honduras/ Nicaragua border.
Thankfully, our decision to cross the Honduras/ Nicaragua border on the lesser traveled route through the town El Espino paid off. Much more relaxed in comparison to our crossing three hours earlier we were able to shed the most persistent of the would be helpers and proceeded past the last checkpoint on the Nicaragua side with self-congratulatory sighs of relief. Oddly, we both felt an immediate elevated degree of comfort in Nicaragua. We wondered, was it because there was less roadside garbage or was it because we had visited Nicaragua in 2005 and it somehow felt more familiar or was it because it was in fact a safer Central American country?